It's three in the morning and here I sit, glass of hot vin chaud - the spiced and brandied red wine I made earlier this evening to have with leftover boeuf bourguignon, and it finally hits me that after a more than a week of visitors, Christmas parties, finals, grading, faculty meetings, and yet one more party to come, that it is only eleven days before we set off on our winter vacation. Normally, we would take the winter vacation in New York but this year we going to Rome, a city neither of us has been to. Florence is on the itinerary as is New Year in Venice. Of all the buildings I'm going to see, Bramante's Tempietto is the one I'm most most looking forward to.
Christmas, in its own way, a festival of lights, when in the short, dark days of the northern midwinter fires were lit not only against the cold, holly and mistletoe, the greenery of the old gods, hung above doors and windows, and trees ornamented with candles. One of my most clear memories of childhood Christmases is of a card printed with a snowy coaching scene that because of its metal foil surface and a shred of embossing glinted magically in the light of the fire. The magic of that glint, the glow of fire in a dark room, the blue shadows beyond the slab of light from a window thrown across snow, has never left me. Last night at our condo holiday party the major decorations were large glass vases filled white lights and white twigs from which hung many icicles - to me the most glamouring of combinations, frost and fire. It's good sometimes to snatch a few seconds, just to appreciate how light in the dark is so essential and elemental a condition.
When, last weekend, I asked the Celt what we might serve for his sister-in-law's last-night-with-us dinner with friends he immediately said boeuf bourguignon, gratin dauphinoise and roasted asparagus with a bought-in fruit tart to follow - suggesting he'd hitherto given it a tad more thought than had I. Boeuf bourguignon it was but the odd thing is I realized I'd never made it before. I'd made the Flemish version of beef in beer, slowly stewed beef with prunes and red wine, even stroganoffed filet (the "t" is not silent in this household) with sour cream and mushrooms - in fact over the years I'd stewed a lot of beef but had never done the classic, Julia Child popularized, blogged-about and movie-starred boeuf bourguignon. Well, I made it and I can tell you honestly it was a total disappointment - until, that is, on reheating two days later and with the last minute addition of buttered mushrooms and pearl onions, it had evolved into the most salubrious of casseroles. There's a morsel, perhaps not served well by a second and third reheating, left for lunch tomorrow.
As to gratin dauphinoise, and this is where I recognize the irony of taking anti-cholesterol medication, I like it simple - well-seasoned, thinly-sliced potatoes, layered with cream and lots of garlic (none of the rub the dish with garlic nonsense) and slowly, slowly baked. Simple, subtle, and salacious.
I shall resume posts about connections, circles within circles, next week.